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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- More than 500 students from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Mooresville and Lincoln County are hitting the books, back in school for several weeks this summer.

They are part of the YMCA s Y Readers program. For 16 years, the YMCA has raised money through grants, fund raising and corporate donations to hire teachers and put hundreds of students back in the classroom for six weeks in tYhe summer.

It is staggering. The need is so great in Charlotte. There are 528 students now, but we could serve three to four times as many kids, said YMCA Y Readers spokesperson Blair Campbell.

The teachers spending summer with the students realize their work is critical. Studies show students who are from low income families, and who are not reading by third grade, are 13 times more likely to drop out of high school.

Letisha Steele is teaching Y Readers at her school, Highland Renaissance Academy. Last year, many of the students at the school who took part in Y Readers showed six months of academic growth during the summer.

We want to make sure their reading skills are being pushed, making sure anything they have trouble with, that we are here to help them on all things they can do, said Steele.

I think this school is perfect. In the summer we go to field trips and got all this stuff to do, said one student named Linda.

The eight-year-old from Liberia has been in Charlotte for one year. Program advocates say if she sticks with it, Linda could break the dangerous cycle she is so dangerously close to falling into.

Blair Campbell is with the YMCA. A former Teach for America teacher, Campbell calls the need for the program huge.

It makes me feel scared because there are so many kids across our community who are reading below grade level. Many are not learning to read by third grade and I feel more people need to be aware, she said.

The students will be tested at the end of the program to see their growth prior to returning to school in August.

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